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Pennsylvania government transparency bill facing certain veto

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks to reporters at a news conference on July 15, 2020 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said he will veto a bill that would require access to public records during emergencies.

The proposal won unanimous support in both chambers after the administration stopped processing right-to-know requests earlier this year, citing the statewide COVID-19 disaster declaration implemented March 6 and renewed again on June 3. The Senate presented the bill to the governor this week.

York County Republican Seth Grove, who sponsored the legislation, said it was needed to restore transparency to state government. The administration’s implementation of COVID-19 mitigation efforts – especially its short-lived and opaque business waiver program – have drawn sharp criticism from legislative Republicans concerned about the administration’s overreaches.

“People always say they support transparency and accountability, but few support transparency and accountability on themselves,” Grove said. “Gov. Tom Wolf has the opportunity, by signing House Bill 2463 into law, to show he fully commits the executive branch to a higher standard of openness.”

But Wolf told reporters on Wednesday he would veto it, though he wasn’t specific about why.

“I am for transparency and I will set my record of transparency up against members of the General Assembly any day of the week,” he said. “I think that particular bill has some flaws.”

Grove urged him to reconsider.

“Citizens have a constitutional right to question their elected officials and government, even in times of crisis,” he said. “This is a core principle of our nation and our Commonwealth. It must be defended and held in high regard.”

Nathan Benefield, vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation, also encouraged Wolf to sign the bill, noting that transparency is “essential” to good government.

“Allowing the governor to stop responses to Right-to-Know requests during an emergency is to allow him to pull a curtain around his actions and delay publicity of his decisions during the exact time when he has assumed the most power,” he said. “Neither news organizations nor average citizens should have to wait for months to know how and why such important decisions are made.”

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